How to create user-friendly product with design thinking

10 min readJun 18, 2022

Today we will talk about design thinking. We, at the bank, actively apply it to create banking products.

This article will be useful for beginners ux-researcher, product manager and product owner. So I’m going to tell about the basic concepts of design thinking so that you can decide whether this is the right way to do your job or not.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centric approach to the creation of products and services. This is a way of exploring the outside world by identifying the «breaks» of user experience (experience gap) of interaction with the product. Experience gap refers to a mismatch between user expectations and reality in the process of using the product.

What is the peculiarity of the human-centric approach? Previously, products were created based on the interests of business units: business — technology — product — client. Client-centric methods focus primarily on the client: customer — product — technology — business. The task of «falling in love with the user in the product» is replaced by the task of «making the product that will be loved».

The approach is based on two main principles:

  • Before you think of a solution, you need to understand the user, as well as the problems and needs that he faces
  • When you figure out how to help a user, you need to create quick prototypes to check how well you understand the user

The design thinking process consists of five stages:

  • Empathy
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototyping
  • Testing

The process is not linear, but iterative. This means that by getting a product that is not used by users, we can go back to the previous steps and re-release the product. Due to the fact that design thinking promotes the rapid testing of new versions of the product, such iterations should take minimal time.

Another important feature of design thinking is the combination of convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is used to solve problems by choosing one priority out of a multitude. Divergent thinking is used to solve problems by finding multiple solutions to the same problem. People use both approaches very well, however, it is difficult for them to switch between them. Therefore, both types of thinking «sewing» into design thinking.

Divergent thinking is used when it is not clear what problems the client faces and how to solve them. If the problem is immediately obvious, then there is no point in using such a complex tool as design thinking.

Stage «Empathize»

Empathy is the ability to feel like someone else, to learn from their experiences, and to know how they see the world. By watching people and communicating with them, you begin to understand what they are thinking and feeling. These observations and help to find the answer to the question: «What do people need?». The result of such research is insight — grasping the essence of a problem situation; a assumption that may or may not be confirmed in the testing process. Often, insight has such qualities as: subjective, inspiring, memorable.

It is important to share sympathy and empathy. When you have sympathy for a person, you join their thoughts and feelings. In empathy you put yourself in the place of the respondent and try to see the world through his eyes. There is no sympathy for a person with whom you disagree or with whom you have opposite views. And to be empathic with such a person is quite possible.

To find insights, you can use ethnographic research methods:

  • In-depth and express interviews with the target audience
  • Monitoring users when using the product (field study)
  • Method «Mocassines»

For in-depth interviews, you can choose both an ordinary product user and an extreme user. Extreme users either do not use the product/service, or use a very active and non-standard way. More about the interview process, I wrote in a separate article. When I was working on banking products, there was never a time when I didn’t take something new out of an interview. Interview is a very powerful tool for understanding people.

For field research it is necessary to observe the actions of people in the natural environment. For example, you can see how the ATM is used by tall or low people, people with heavy bags in their hands or a small child. Such observations are very useful for designing the future prototype in the stage «prototype». The results of monitoring can be captured in the form of notes, as well as in the form of photos or videos. For example, while observing how people use ATMs, it has been observed that it is not convenient for them to hold a bag during operations. As a result of such research, it was decided to make a small shelf at the ATM to be able to deliver the bag during the transaction.

The «Mocassines» method assumes that you perform the actions performed by the users. For example, it is useful for a retail store director to stand behind a counter to learn about typical cashier and buyer problems. In this way, you will feel all those difficulties and needs of users on «your own skin». For example, when I’m researching banking products, the first thing I do is go to the bank’s website and read the product description. Already at this stage you can see a lot of uncertainties and no matches that your users face every day.

The point of the empathize phase is to collect user histories and reveal their experiences in the natural environment. At this stage, divergent thinking is used primarily. At this stage it is important not to interpret the collected stories, but to record them as they are. We’ll analyze them at the next stage.

In rare cases it is possible to pass all the intermediate stages and go straight to the stage «Prototype». For example, you design a physical object (pen or headphones) and at the stage of «Empathize» you can assemble a product convenient for the client. However, in most cases, you will still have to go through all the steps consecutively.

Stage «Define»

Needs do not change (for example, the need to eat), changing the preferences of customers (self-cooking, buying cooked food in the store, delivery of prepared food at home). To think that new products should meet unique needs is a mistake. Preferences can be revealed by watching customers or asking them questions. Needs are likely to be hidden. To move from preferences to needs, the «Define» step is used.

At this stage it is necessary to analyze all the collected information, as well as to select the most important for the subsequent stage of the generation of ideas. As you can see, at the stage «Define» mostly convergent thinking is applied.

Divide a working board or a large sheet of paper into four parts. Sign each square: says, does, thinks, feels. Next, place stickers with observations, photos and insights in the respective sectors. Within each square, cluster the materials into separate groups. For example, we can distinguish such groups as: problems, obstacles in solving problems, needs, behavioural patterns, etc. Clustering will help to structure different aspects of the situation, as well as can show non-obvious links between facts.

After we have structured all the information, you can use the point of view template:

[User] wants/needs [user need] to/because [insights]

It should be remembered that with the help of point of view, we only interpret the obtained facts. So in the next stages, we may conclude that we have misformulated the need. In this case it will be necessary to return to the matrix «Speaks, does, thinks, feels» and formulate a new need. So in design thinking iterative is realized.

Stage «Ideate»

At this stage, we need to offer as many solutions as possible for the formed problem. To do this, we use a brainstorming session. This is an example of divergent thinking.

It is important to invite people with different experiences to the brainstorming session: programmers, lawyers, designers and others. All who may be involved in the product. When people get a job, they start to specialize in some field. Our job as moderators of brainstorming is to bring together people with different competencies and perspectives to evaluate the task from all sides. The more people with different competencies work on the product, the more likely it is to discover unobtrusive things at the product design stage: technological constraints, legal restrictions, and more.

The process of moderation brainstorming is worthy of a separate article. However, the general recommendations are as follows:

  • At the beginning, make a small speech explaining what you have learned during the research, what you expect from the brainstormers and how you will benefit from the results
  • Announce the timing: how long does the brainstorming session last, whether there are breaks
  • Explain the rules of brainstorming: refrain from criticism, develop ideas of colleagues, do not be afraid to offer crazy ideas, strive for the maximum number of ideas, let all participants speak
  • Present the point of view obtained at the previous stage
  • Start a brainstorming session. If you are a moderator, follow the timing and rules. If you see a command deviating from point of view, gently remind about the stated topic of discussion

After the brainstorming session, suggest to choose the best idea according to the participants. If participants have difficulty choosing, you can set selection criteria. It is desirable that the idea be useful for the client, profitable for business and be able to implement it with the help of current technologies. This is an idea you’ll take to the next stage to build a prototype.

Stage «Prototype»

At this stage, it is necessary to assemble the prototype of the future product as quickly as possible. By prototype means everything with which clients can interact: interface, object, room, etc. Business processes can be simulated using Lego toys or by shooting videos. The main task is to visualize the idea, then bring the basic information to the users of the product. At this stage, convergent thinking is predominantly applied.

It is said that at this stage we «think with our hands». In the process of prototyping you understand that you need to change to make the components of the idea work. In addition, it is important to keep in mind the point of view that we received in the previous stage, because we do not prototype for ourselves, but for customers.

It is recommended to prototype from improvised materials: cardboard, stickers, scotch, markers and others. The less time and money you put into the prototype, the easier it is to abandon the failed concept and move on to designing a new prototype.

Remember, the stage of «Prototype» and the subsequent stage of «Test» are not separated. You quickly create a prototype and immediately test it with users. You can see how users respond to the prototype and complement the solution based on the user’s reaction. In this way, after several iterations you will get a prototype of a user-oriented product.

«Test» stage

At the word level, misunderstandings often occur between people. When you show a person a prototype, the number of misunderstandings decreases. By testing the prototype with users, we learn:

  • Whether the prototype works as we planned it;
  • Whether the prototype evokes a desired response from the user.

We go from the general to the specific, and so we use convergent thinking. This step is necessary to ensure that no unforeseen situations occur during the launch of the real product. So do not be afraid to make mistakes, if the prototype does not inspire the user, feel free to return to the previous stage to design a new prototype.

The phase plan is simple:

  • Determine the success criteria of the prototype being tested;
  • Invite customers for the test;
  • Test and record its results.
  • It is useful to assign roles in advance among team members. Choose:
  • Interviewer who will test with user prototype
  • The observer who will record the results
  • Players who play roles with the respondent if necessary

The test results can be systematized in the test matrix. Divide the flipchart into four equal parts:

  • Everything that the user liked
  • Prototype criticism
  • Questions The Client Had During Testing
  • Ideas put forward by the user

Using the matrix, you can make the necessary adjustments to the prototype and proceed to the next iteration of testing. So, by testing new versions of the prototype over and over again, you get a workable solution that you can implement: look for funding, assign a development team, think about marketing.

Of course, it is not always possible to get the desired product from the first time. If in the process of testing you feel that users do not have the needs that you meet with your prototype, go to the stage «Define». If you feel that there is a need but your product is not of interest to users, go back to the «Ideate» stage.


The concept of design thinking proposed in consists of the following five stages. However, I will take the liberty to mark another stage, which implicitly is implied in this concept — storitelling.

To «infect» those around you with the idea of your prototype, you need to present your idea. The presentation may contain:

  • Introductory part, telling what the client is trying to do and what goals to achieve;
  • A climax telling what is interfering with the client
  • A denouement demonstrating the true cause of what is happening (insight)
  • Solution. Tell us how you came to the current decision and how users react to it

Use this approach to enlist the support of stakeholders at work or investors. Then you will receive help and resources to implement the product. I wish you all the best!